I got accepted, I got in, a new chapter or just a page in a book?
From the outset University life posed many questions for me, and in particular the question of what were the bounds of my disability. Or maybe better put, a choice lay before me: was I to die on the inside or to in fact try and live? My heart knew what it wanted. To extend beyond my physicality and concrete exterior, and to have a shot at a future. My head told me otherwise. Many critics told me otherwise.
But before an attempt at this endeavour could get underway, I’d have to stare my realities and limitations in the face. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t write, I couldn’t walk or even talk, it was a long list of ‘could nots’. Everything seemed to be against me. It felt like the foot of Everest, it felt like day one of the hike. Yet this failing body was all I had to work with, and I was going to at least try.
This was my way of saying ‘fuck you’ disability!
So I applied and got an offer, it was for a double degree, a challenge for any able bodied person let alone for a quadriplegic. But it was this type of thinking that I was trying to bust – not only for others but for myself a must. All I wanted was to be viewed as equal. To shoot down stereotypes, and for others to see and value me for who I truly am. Not a moron but an oxymoron – a bogan with a brain.
Also, now seems as good a time to say it, I haven’t always been this way. Disability once was as foreign as Mars. Only tragedies happen, and to normal nice people, and then they are faced with dilemmas such as the above. A cruel twist of fate, to overcome a rude waste like lemonade in beer. So from once a cool kid, I knew it, I was now going to have to face this new educational adventure as the complete outsider.
At O week I was more than the new kid changing schools, I was like the injured gorilla confined to a zoo. I saw the reactions, I saw the amazement, I saw the nursing students ogle at my body with intent and guise. Well, ‘the test subject’s here’ said one to another. But the eyes of pity soon changed to admiration, especially when I was now in line for enrolment with an acceptance latter. I too was studying, a fellow student and, dare I say it, an equal.
The first day came around, and of all the things I’d done in my life, man this was daunting. I’d even died three times to date, literally, and right now I began thinking number four would be a fair exchange. Then, as I entered the theatre I could hear the murmur of innocence; whereas I had lived these souls had not. Suddenly a hush of silence adorned, a lecturer spoke, my heart exploded – against all obstacles I was living my dream.
As the weeks and months rolled on by, I became acquainted with these processes. From seminars to lectures, my body in a chair became the fireside ornament. Though lonely and brittle, a faint spark still remained lit. A Carer translating answers, for other students this is all that could be seen. And no-one spoke to me, not for a year, for maybe fear of saying the wrong thing. But I understood. Still any acknowledgement and my body would flutter with glee.
In fact, I was quickly discovering that the work wasn’t my biggest challenge but it was the students. The contrast of my former social outwardness to what now sat alone, it was like yin and yang, beef or lamb. I tried to make some effort but in the end my shame was too great, the person I was lay dormant, almost like I’d been punched in the face. I felt like a failure. My body had let me down and it shielded others from the experience that is me.
I trucked on. And before long my interpersonal skills were not only challenged but my brain too. Finance – now what sort of sadist punk invented this! So as I sat unexpectedly swallowing numbers, doing calculations in my head as my arms didn’t work, my life became overwhelmed and it crossed my mind that this wasn’t possible. A stubborn mule with a degree out of reach. Possibility, pain, doubt, denial… dagger. The doubters were right.
With a soul now erupting, and starring down at my days in a nursing home unsatisfied, my heart hit one last pound. I could taste the defiance, smell the glory, hear the alarm, feel the success. Indeed, this frail body had one last swing left in it. And this wasn’t a fight to stay alive like so many times before; this was a fight for living. Beyond purpose, beyond meaning, to honour ones dreams. Because without dreams, really, what do we have?
I erected a brick wall. I sat amongst them all. If nobody would talk to me from now on, that would be fine. If nobody could see my humanness, that would be fine. No matter what disability had stolen from me in the past, there was no damn way it was going to steal my right of education. Malala’s voice now echoed through the halls. Disability isn’t the Taliban. Plus, my ego could take this hit, particularly for something such as this which I believed in so much.
Education was my escape from the loneliness in my everyday life. It’s what allows my brain to flourish while my body stays stagnant. This is what makes me feel both equal and alive. And yes, despite all my inner battles, I did still pass Finance. Lord only knows how. Still, through these wars thus far, I believe I’ve now well and truly earned my spot on campus. Only not through a one-sided onslaught like Gallipoli, much rather an experience of the trenches in Vietnam.
I fought for freedom and I won.
Regardless, because of my quadriplegia, I’ve accepted that I’ll never be one of the cool kids at Deakin. My glory days are over. Correct – I’m not worthy of a Kathmandu puffer, rolled up denim and a pair of black Vans. However, I am worthy of a much richer prize, I’m making the impossible possible. Even with an inaudible slur, I’m constantly coming up with creative ways to be seen. Much like in this instance, my words have become my voice.
Nowadays, I quite like this challenge I’ve put before myself. University has turned out to be everything I wanted and more. It’s not even a Chapter or a Book, it’s turning out to be a whole damn Encyclopaedia. The volumes starting at resilience and ending in conquest. Even as an outsider, as I roll amongst the forest of juvenile faces, my heart smiles. And when I go to bed at night, I drown in the knowing of playing my truth.
In any situation I give it my all; I’ll never die wondering. For my eyes bleed vulnerability, my soul satisfaction. Beneath is a student willing to learn, craving the information and in a body where a brain is all that works, once starved and now a glutton.
Dreams work when you work.